Does AI Make Marketers' Lives Easier or Harder?

We're finally entering an age when machines are able to automate many tasks that can free up your time, potentially lots of it.

** This article was originally published on on October 29, 2018.**

What if you could add time to your day?

You can’t, of course—not yet, anyway. But thanks to thousands of years of relentless work and the vision of humanity, we’re finally entering an age when machines are able to automate many tasks that can free up your time, potentially lots of it. Here are three types of AI that might make your job as a marketer easier, harder or replace it altogether:

  1. Self-teaching algorithms are code that writes or tunes itself, literally, much like a parent trains its child, which then evaluates its new “child” AI on the performance of a task to make improvements.Google has been using this AI since about 2014, which increasingly is what’s behind the search results you—and your customers—get from Google searches. You may have noticed, SEO is becoming more abstract and search results less easily manipulated, which means content marketing has become more difficult.

  2. Natural Language Processing (NLP) is another AI that you might see as the answer to search conducted by self-teaching algorithms. NLP understands and manipulates human languages, spoken and written, including, obviously, SEO. You’ve already used NLP in some form, no doubt—Alexa or Siri, for example, or maybe even Grammarly, Clearscope, or CoSchedule. Those last three are AI specifically designed to enhance writing to increase web traffic.

  3. Machine learning is an umbrella term for the technologies behind the dynamic hyper-personalization that’s so important to modern (aka digital) marketing. Machine learning can identify patterns in data and make decisions at both the macro and micro level with little human intervention, all on a huge scale and with unprecedented speed, far beyond human capability.

It’s important to see AI not as a threat, but as tools that can help you.

These are three forms of artificial intelligence, or AI. And congratulations, you’ve been born at the right time to take advantage of them. Or get run over by them like roadkill, if you’re not proactive.

It’s important to see AI not as a threat, but as tools that can help you do a faster, better job than you’re able to do now. By understanding AI and its potential, you have more insight into its strengths and limitations, and you can start to imagine how you use it to enhance or extend your work and do things you haven’t been able to do. The tools’ virtually infinite configurability offers different advantages for each marketer’s unique needs and tasks, right down to the individual customer level, in ways that were impossible just a few years ago.

If the idea of marketing automation and handing over control to a machine makes you anxious—or if you’re the kind of marketer who wants to promote yourself rather than find more customers, and you thought you could avoid AI for a few more years—get over it. You’ll be left behind, if you haven’t been already in your industry. According to Salesforce, more than half of all marketers (51%) are already using AI in some form, and another quarter (27%) will start using it by next year.And those who are using it aren’t just dipping their toe in the pool: they also happen to be the most productive. Salesforce says more than twice (2.2 times) as productive as the least performing companies.

Where to begin

Say you support AI, but you don’t know what to do with it. How could it help you? Basically, it can help with any data-intensive tasks that need heavy lifting, that without AI were near impossible: campaign analytics, lead scoring, ROI tracking, sentiment analysis, churn prediction, etc. Sure, you may have been able to skim the surface on these tasks, but you can’t go as deep or as quickly as a machine can.

The concept that AI can deal with a single customer at a time at scale is the key to understanding it.

Let’s focus on one specific capability: dynamic hyper-personalization, which as quickly become AI’s “killer app” for marketers because it creates a unique experience for each customer. You could even argue that dynamic hyper-personalization makes customer segmentation obsolete, at least for marketers. Imagine quickly gathering past data on a single customer to predict future behavior and then acting on it intelligently to establish or retain their loyalty. The concept that AI can deal with a single customer at a time at scale is the key to understanding it. Not only is it massively global, but it’s also simultaneously local down to the individual.

Customer segmentation used to only be just that: segments or clusters of customers, often grouped in less-than-ideal ways. AI allows you to cast a much wider net than before and lets you interact with customers individually, to be more effective through specific content targeted and personalized to specific individuals. For example:

  • Campaign content released in stages, incrementally, based on groups, times, attributes, or any other data points
  • Product recommendations in emails curated down to the single customer, down to the smallest pieces, such as headlines, prices, components, or offers
  • Customized ads with tailored landing pages and thousands of iterations of ad copy and creative combinations

What’s also happening is that the most mature forms of AI are being used to drive digital advertising buys. eMarketer estimates that, by 2019, four out of five digital ad dollars in the U.S., or $45.72 billion, will be bought by a bot.

But don’t think AI is the answer to every marketer’s problems. There are many things it can’t do, yet. AI doesn’t yet handle creative tasks. Sifting insights from voice and video have recently become possible, so if you’re manually categorizing large caches of media assets, now that’s no longer necessary. AI can execute simple tasks to gather and sort content that uses short-form data, such as stocks, sports scores, prices, descriptions, and reports—but AI doesn’t yet create or assemble new content without human help. That’s for you, the savvy marketer, to do.

What we should see soon with this assist and boost is an acceleration and widening of productivity and trends. The pace of iteration, innovation, and testing should increase tenfold because of AI. So, if you’ve been waiting to act, stop waiting. Start now and do the best work of your career—or get left behind the marketers who do.

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